No, NATO Didn’t Cause the War
In times of grave conflict, we put our partisan differences aside and remember what it means to be American.
At least we used to. Now, right-wing nationalists and radical left-wing pacifists join in chorus with Chinese and Russian propagandists to bash the United States. Forming perhaps the strangest coalition in global politics, a motley band was whipped up by crisis and united in a common hatred of the American government.
The crux of this alliance is that NATO, and the US in particular, provoked the war in Ukraine by forcing Putin into the impossible decision of seeing hostile troops on his doorstep or triggering a war of self-protection. Fearing for the safety of his country, he had no option but to invade Ukraine (and bomb maternity and children’s hospitals, apparently).
They’re missing a few points. As RDI Advisory Board Member Anne Applebaum explains,
“Ukraine has staged not one but two prodemocracy, anti-oligarchy, anti-corruption revolutions in the past two decades. The most recent, in 2014, was particularly terrifying for the Kremlin. Young Ukrainians were chanting anti-corruption slogans, just like the Russian opposition does, and waving European Union flags. These protesters were inspired by the same ideals that Putin hates at home and seeks to overturn abroad.”
In short, a prosperous and democratic Ukraine is proof to average Russians that they can have more. More freedom to form their own opinions, and more freedom to choose their own leaders. This poses an existential threat to Putin, and Ukraine is suffering the consequences. If you’re looking for a longer answer as to why NATO isn’t to blame, I recommend Cathy Young’s piece in the Bulwark.
But the anti-Americans explain things differently. Two days after Putin invaded Ukraine, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) called on the “US to withdraw from NATO and to end the imperialist expansionism that set the stage for this conflict,” as if it were the US violating borders and annexing land in Ukraine. A DSA member and NYC Councilwoman, Kristin Richardson Jordan, disavowed Ukraine’s 2014 pro-democracy revolution, claiming, “the U.S. helped overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected leader in an illegal coup, helped install a fascist government, and empowered a far right military, all with the goal of destabilizing Russia.”
The feminist anti-war group Code Pink posted a statement explaining that “the U.S. has played a major role in exacerbating this conflict, facilitating a 2014 coup to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Ukraine.” Naturally, they “view NATO as a threat to world peace.”
They’re joined by the illustrious company of Jill Stein, 2012 and 2016 Green Party candidate for president, who wrote that “we need to tell the truth about US/NATO provocations that got us here.” According to Stein, the “US backed a coup in Ukraine led by far-right insurrectionists” as a stepping stone to America’s ultimate goal of “adding Ukraine to NATO - and putting hostile bases and nuclear-capable missiles right on Russia's border.”
A fascist government in Kyiv. A US-backed coup against the democratically-elected government. America as an imperial expansionist. If this sounds a bit like Russian propaganda, that’s because it is.
The connections between the American Far Left and Russia are well documented. While I’m not suggesting these individuals are on the Kremlin payroll, they don’t need to be—they’ll regurgitate Russian talking points for free.
The co-founder of Code Pink, Medea Benjamin, is a regular on Russian propaganda outlet RT, which she joined again this week for a 15-minute discussion. Benjamin and Code Pink have long supported left-wing totalitarian regimes, praising Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Fidel Castro in Cuba. During an event on February 26th, Code Pink brought on Jeremy Corbyn, the British politician and former Leader of the Labour Party, who was himself another regular contributor to RT.
Jill Stein, for her part, had dinner with Vladimir Putin at an RT gala she attended in 2015. As journalist Ben Schreckinger wrote in Politico in 2017, Stein later “recorded a video from Moscow’s famous Red Square, in which she talked about ‘the need to rein in American exceptionalism’ and replace ‘a U.S. policy based on domination.’” When it came time to choose a running mate for her 2016 spoiler bid for president, she considered Chris Hedges, an RT host, and ultimately decided on Ajamu Baraka, who, as Schreckinger explains, “has slammed the ‘gangster states of NATO’” and frequented RT as a guest.
Not to leave out China from their activism, Code Pink, Benjamin, and Stein all signed onto a letter from No Cold War, an organization with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, to “call upon the US to step back from this threat of a Cold War and also from other dangerous threats to world peace.” Other signatories to the letter include two hosts on the China Global Television Network, China’s closest equivalent to RT. Unsurprisingly, No Cold War released a statement last month entitled “NATO’s eastward expansion is the cause of the crisis around Ukraine.” Similar messages proliferate across Russian and Chinese propaganda outlets, sometimes even referencing the Americans that endorse them.
While right-wing figures won’t defend China, they have seized on almost identical talking points to the Far Left to bash the Biden administration and criticize liberal governments in Europe. Tulsi Gabbard, the former Democratic Congresswoman turned Fox news pundit, blamed the US, writing, “This war and suffering could have easily been avoided if Biden Admin/NATO had simply acknowledged Russia’s legitimate security concerns regarding Ukraine’s becoming a member of NATO.” Media personality Candace Owens circulated a speech by Putin and wrote that “WE are at fault” for Putin’s aggression, while Tucker Carlson explained to his viewers that Ukraine joining NATO would be like China colonizing Mexico.
The broad appeal of this message lies in its basic assumption that the United States government is a force of evil. For the Chinese and the Russians, that belief is essentially gospel. For the Far Left, it’s ingrained in decades of socialist, anti-war activism. Yet for the emerging pro-Russia Right, attacking the American government is opportunistic and unfamiliar. A few years ago, it would have been unheard of for mainstream right-wing figures to defend a Russian dictator. Now, they’re working overtime to ensure that the American government emerges from the war as the culprit. This coalition won’t hold, but it’s a troubling sign for our democracy that so many influential Americans would put aside their vast differences to unite against America.